A mission of hope: Pray for priests

Jared Staudt

Ecclesia semper reformanda: The Church must always be reformed. These words have hit home recently in the midst of a crisis of confidence in the Church. The sins of our leaders have discouraged us, although we can also recognize a profound crisis of faith and holiness affecting all the members of the Church. The Lord calls his entire Church to renewal through prayer and a life conformed to him. In this renewal, we must pray for our leaders especially, our bishops, priests, deacons, and religious, because we depend on them to model the Christian life for us and to support us in our own growth.

A Benedictine monk has shared profound insights on the importance of adoration in the life of priests and the need for everyone to pray for the holiness of priests. This anonymous monk has shared the inspirations he received of Jesus speaking to him in prayer: In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart: The Journal of a Priest at Prayer (Angelico, 2016, with imprimatur from the Bishop of Meath). Although the work addresses itself most directly to priests, I found much encouragement in the book through a call to a stronger friendship with Jesus through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

For instance, take this message from December 20, 2011: “The practice of adoration is not difficult. It is a gentle abiding in My presence, a resting in the radiance of My Eucharistic Face, a closeness to My Eucharist Heart. Words, though sometimes helpful, are not necessary, nor are thoughts. What I seek from one who would adore Me in spirit and in truth is a heart aflame with love, a heart content to abide in My presence silent and still, engaged only in the act of loving Me and of receiving My love. Though this is not difficult, it is, all the same, My own gift to the soul who asks for it. Ask then for the gift of adoration” (208).

We can be afraid of silent prayer because we do not know what to say or do. The book invites us simply to be with Jesus and to spend time with him in love. We do not have to worry about making good use of the time, as this puts the emphasis on us, but to allow Jesus to act in us as we fix our attention and our heart on him. “Give me your attention and I will work the wonders of My merciful love in your soul. Hold yourself facing Me. Abide in My presence gently, without forcing yourself to produce thoughts, feelings, or sensations . . . All that is necessary is faith, and with faith, hope, and with hope, the love that binds the soul to Me and makes union with Me a reality” (200).

Although the message of adoration applies to everyone, the author relates the development of his own vocation to form a Benedictine monastery dedicated to perpetual adoration for the sanctification of priests. “By the prayer of adoration for My priests, you are working with Me for them. You are working with Me to lift them when they fall, to bind up their wounds, to deliver them from bondage to evil, to open them to My gifts, and to obtain for them a great openness to the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit. Your union with Me in prayer lessens the resistance of many priests to entering resolutely upon the path of holiness that I am opening before them” (119).

The book contains many beautiful prayers (compiled also in an appendix), which guide us in responding to Jesus’ call for increased trust through prayer. Here is one example: “My Jesus, only as Thou willest, when Thou willest, and in the way Thou willest, To Thee be all glory and thanksgiving, Who rulest all things mightily and sweetly, and Who fillest the earth with Thy manifold mercies. Amen” (131).

In addition, it proposes a Chaplet of Reparation, also called an Offering of the Precious Blood for Priests, which enables us to join the mission of praying for priests. “On the Our Father bead: Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Thy Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb without blemish or spot, in reparation for my sin and for the sins of all Thy priests. On the Hail Mary beads: By Thy Precious Blood, O Jesus, purify and sanctify Thy priests. In place of the Glory be to the Father: O Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named, have mercy on all Thy priests, and wash them in the Blood of the Lamb” (269).

In Sinu Jesu calls us to a deeper love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, as well as inviting us into the needed mission to pray for our shepherds. In a time of discouragement, it offers us hope through the power of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to renew his Church.

COMING UP: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.